The retreading industry has changed for better and for worse in the past 35 years, according to two retreading experts speaking at the Clemson Tire Industry Conference March 10-12 at Hilton Head.
On one hand, retread manufacturing has reached a level of quality and sophistication unprecedented in its history, and today's retread plants are much larger than ever before, thanks to advanced technology and economies of scale.
On the other hand, there are less than 10 percent as many retread plants as there used to be-985 now, as opposed to more than 10,000 in 1969-and some prospective buyers, especially in the public sector, still don't understand that truck tire casings are made specifically to be retreaded.
``We will continue to preach our message until everyone out there finally understands that tires are meant to be worn out, not thrown out,'' said Harvey Brodsky, managing director of the Tire Retread Information Bureau (TRIB).
The radialization of the tire industry was the death blow to passenger tire retreading, noted M. Terry Westhafer, president and general manager of Verona, Va.-based Central Tire Corp. The poor quality of casings from the first generation of passenger radials hurt the market, he said, and the influx of inexpensive passenger radials from Third World countries finished it off.
Still, ``radial tires...were a boon to the truck and off-the-road segments of the retreading industry,'' Mr. Westhafer said. ``Radials sold for prices higher than bias-ply tires, which resulted in tire users demanding higher levels of performance''-including greater retreadability of casings.
The precure process was ideal for radial casings, he added, and this created a boon for Bandag Inc. and other companies that provided precure retreading processes and systems.
Although Bandag continues to have by far the largest share of the market of any retreading equipment supplier, Mr. Westhafer predicted Goodyear and Michelin Retread Technologies Inc. will enjoy the largest growth in the next several years.
``National account programs will become more prevalent as the tire manufacturers seek to gain more control over the channels of distribution,'' he said. Companies seeking national accounts typically sweeten the deal by offering incredibly low prices, he said, and Goodyear and Michelin ``with their company-owned stores and dealer network of retailers'' will have a natural advantage in pursuing those accounts aggressively.
With a projected shortage of medium truck tires, and with the current combination of low interest rates and tax breaks for the purchase of new equipment, retreaders are in a prime position to expand their businesses, according to Mr. Westhafer.
``Contemporary retread products are unrivaled in quality and getting better each year,'' he said. ``Perhaps we are yet to experience the heyday of retreading-the best may be yet to come.''
Although there has been an executive order in place for years that calls for federal procurement officials to maximize their purchases of retreaded tires, too many federal fleets don't buy them, Mr. Brodsky said.
The main initial motivation for the executive order was recycling, and retreads deliver on that as well as on quality and value, he said. ``A retread tire has one of the highest post-consumer contents of any recycled product,'' he added.
TRIB spreads the word about retreads to federal officials not only through news releases, Mr. Brodsky said, but also through frequent tire maintenance workshops, regular participation in government conferences and exhibits at two major truck shows annually.